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DOD officials kick off Sexual Assault Awareness Month with campaign, Web site

  • Published
  • By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
  • American Forces Press Service
As part of a nationwide observance this month to raise awareness about one of the country's most under-reported crimes, Defense Department officials launched a new Web site and campaign April 3 that give military members fresh initiatives and new teaching methods to prevent sexual assault, the department's top prevention expert said.
"Sexual Assault Awareness Month is just our opportunity to heighten awareness and to make people aware of the programs in place to take care of them," said Dr. Kaye Whitley, director of the Defense Department's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office. "(The observance) gives us a chance to reaffirm (the department's) commitment."

The Web site and social marketing campaign focus heavily on bystander interventions, encouraging military members to "take care of their buddies." Department officials wants every man and woman in uniform to take an active role in and be responsible for preventing sexual assault, Dr. Whitley said.

Much like the "Friends don't let friends drive drunk" slogan of the Mothers Against Drunk Driving nonprofit group, bystander intervention means anyone has the ability to stop sexual assault before it happens, she said.

"(Bystander intervention) is calling on everyone to look out after each other and intervene in situations before a sexual assault occurs," Dr. Whitley said. "This is a concept we're familiar with because we look out for our battle buddies; we look for our wingmen.

"If you're out with your friends and partying, don't leave your friends alone," she said. "And if someone has had too much to drink, make sure (he or she gets) home safely. Everyone has a duty to prevent sexual assault."

The campaign's slogan is "Our strength is for defending," Dr. Whitley said, and beginning this month and from now on, department officials will emphasize bystander intervention as an important aspect for prevention.

Department officials "want every Soldier, Sailor, Airmen and Marine to know that it is (his or her) responsibility to intervene and prevent sexual assault from occurring," she said.

Throughout the month, officials at a number of military installations around the globe are expected to host guest lecturers as well as hold education seminars, classes and various other events, Dr. Whitley said.

The awareness month campaign will provide military members and their leaders helpful tools to educate each other to enhance knowledge and awareness. Schedules of events and activities throughout the year as well as training tools and materials can be found on the new Web site.

"Commanders and leaders worldwide ... we want everyone involved," she said. "This new campaign calls upon everyone at every level of military society to prevent sexual assault.

"The goal of the department is to get people to come forward and report," Dr. Whitley said. "We want to give you the care and the support you need. We want to decrease the stigma ... we want people to know that services are available to them around the clock."